Environmental justice emerged as a concept in the United States in the early 1980s. The term has two distinct uses with the more common usage describing a social movement that focuses on the fair distribution of environmental benefits and burdens. The other use is an interdisciplinary body of social science literature that includes theories of the environment and justice, environmental laws and their implementations, environmental policy and planning and governance for development and sustainability, and political ecology.
Environmental justice can also affect the effects of climate change; In this context, sometimes we talk about injustice and / or climate justice.
This concept implies that there are rights for nature for all; individuals, families, communities, businesses and other human groups in relation to the environment considered as a common good, but in exchange for legal duties and obligations, and in accordance with UNDP assumed by Fabrice Flipo (2002), «In the absence of third parties capable of administering justice: the strongest nullify their rights and escape their duties, gradually constituting private potentates. Therefore, the current rules do not lead to a global increase in inequality ». This concept also invites us to think and implement reduction, repair and compensation measures when ecological damage cannot be avoided, which can sometimes require or justify a certain “ecological interference”.
These duties or obligations are often grouped into the notion of “social and environmental responsibility,” the freedom to exploit the environment stops where it threatens others (then it is mandatory not to over- exploit a resource), and where the environment (biodiversity, natural habitats, genetic diversity) would itself be threatened by human activities.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency defines environmental justice as follows:
Environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. EPA has this goal for all communities and persons across this Nation. It will be achieved when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.
Other definitions include: equitable distribution of environmental risks and benefits; fair and meaningful participation in environmental decision-making; recognition of community ways of life, local knowledge, and cultural difference; and the capability of communities and individuals to function and flourish in society. An alternative meaning, used in social sciences, of the term “justice” is “the distribution of social goods”.
Generalities and history of the concept
The concept of social and environmental equity appears in the analysis of the tragedy of the commons applied in Third Worldism and in many critical analyzes of colonization and slavery, but it appeared strongly associated with the environment or ecology only around 1990-1992 with its international formalization at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro (1992) and in parallel forums led by NGOs and civil society.
These notions emerged from the 1970s to the 1990s, as the external debt of developing countries continued to grow, in parallel with the construction of environmental law at local, regional and global levels. There was then the gradual formation of an awareness about the vulnerability of natural heritage and the existence of an ecological debt (non-monetary debt, however, aggravated by a financial debt that keeps the South underdeveloped, while the environmental crisis and ecological inequalities, 10They aggravate the global climate crisis and face the ability to adapt to climate change. But justice can allow certain “positive” inequalities; justifying in the international negotiations, greater efforts on the part of the richest countries, while additional time is given to the poor countries (which in fact heavily pollute the services and products they offer to the rich countries).
In the United States, the concept of “environmental justice” has been used since the early 1980s (often in relation to the civil rights movement and with the support of some churches), following the observation that factories pollutants, the storage and treatment of spills of hazardous waste or pollutants have touched more often and more directly to the natural resources and the environment of the poorest and most vulnerable people (mainly Amerindians and African Americans); even Chavis (1987) coined the term ” environmental racism ” in a report entitled “Toxic waste and race in the United States”.
In 1994, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency of the United States) was entrusted with the official mission of detecting and, if possible, reducing the “environmental injustices” that covered racial and social discrimination. There is a specialized foundation in that country called the Environmental Justice Foundation.
At the beginning of the 2000s, this concept was still little discussed in academic literature and was scarcely presented in public policies. According to J Theys, in the early 2000s, ecological inequalities remained a “forgotten dimension of public action” 14 and social and environmental concerns are ignored by others.
Environmental discrimination is one issue that environmental justice seeks to address. Racism and discrimination against minorities center on a socially-dominant group’s belief in its superiority, often resulting in privilege for the dominant group and the mistreatment of non-dominant minorities. The combined impact of these privileges and prejudices are just one of the potential reasons that waste management and high pollution sites tend to be located in minority-dominated areas. A disproportionate quantity of minority communities (for example in Warren County, North Carolina) play host to landfills, incinerators, and other potentially toxic facilities. Environmental discrimination can also be the placement of a harmful factory in a place of minority. This can be seen as environmental discrimination because it is placing a harmful entity in a place where the people often don’t have the means to fight back against big corporations.
Environmental discrimination has historically been evident in the process of selecting and building environmentally hazardous sites, including waste disposal, manufacturing, and energy production facilities. The location of transportation infrastructures, including highways, ports, and airports, has also been viewed as a source of environmental injustice. Among the earliest documentation of environmental racism was a study of the distribution of toxic waste sites across the United States. Due to the results of that study, waste dumps and waste incinerators have been the target of environmental justice lawsuits and protests.
Double dimension, geospatial and temporal
Environmental justice refers both to equal opportunities in terms of sustainable access to vital natural resources between the rich and poor regions of the world, and a more “fair” exchange and an equitable weight of ecological debt and its amortization in the territorial, geographical and biogeographic scope.
The spatial dimension is no longer that of geographical boundaries, but a new “ecological space” that would be the biosphere and some of its biogeographic subsets. Here environmental inequalities are often also territorial inequalities. This spatial dimension includes landscapes that are increasingly apprehended according to the principles of landscape ecology, and that become, in agricultural and industrial regions, subjects of environmental justice. The “north-south” gaps are also found in this area.
This form of justice also tends to acquire a strong temporal dimension, as part of the progressive adoption (at least in theory and in the vocabulary of the media, communities, administrations and companies) of the principles of sustainable development and intra and intergenerational equity, that opens theoretically, but clearly environmental justice for future generations.
Some environmental justice lawsuits are based on violations of civil rights laws.
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is often used in lawsuits that claim environmental inequality. Section 601 prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin by any government agency receiving federal assistance. To win an environmental justice case that claims an agency violated this statute, the plaintiff must prove the agency intended to discriminate. Section 602 requires agencies to create rules and regulations that uphold section 601. This section is useful because the plaintiff must only prove that the rule or regulation in question had a discriminatory impact. There is no need to prove discriminatory intent. Seif v. Chester Residents Concerned for Quality Living set the precedent that citizens can sue under section 601. There has not yet been a case in which a citizen has sued under section 602, which calls into question whether this right of action exists.
The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which was used many times to defend minority rights during the 1960s, has also been used in numerous environmental justice cases.
Initial barriers to minority participation
When environmentalism first became popular during the early 20th century, the focus was wilderness protection and wildlife preservation. These goals reflected the interests of the movement’s initial, primarily white middle and upper class supporters, including through viewing preservation and protection via a lens that failed to appreciate the centuries-long work of indigenous communities who had lived without ushering in the types of environmental devastation these settler colonial “environmentalists” now sought to mitigate. The actions of many mainstream environmental organizations still reflect these early principles.
Numerous low-income minorities felt isolated or negatively impacted by the movement, exemplified by the Southwest Organizing Project’s (SWOP) Letter to the Group of 10, a letter sent to major environmental organizations by several local environmental justice activists. The letter argued that the environmental movement was so concerned about cleaning up and preserving nature that it ignored the negative side-effects that doing so caused communities nearby, namely less job growth. In addition, the NIMBY movement has transferred locally unwanted land uses (LULUs) from middle-class neighborhoods to poor communities with large minority populations. Therefore, vulnerable communities with fewer political opportunities are more often exposed to hazardous waste and toxins. This has resulted in the PIBBY principle, or at least the PIMBY (Place-in-minorities’-backyard), as supported by the United Church of Christ’s study in 1987.
As a result, some minorities have viewed the environmental movement as elitist. Environmental elitism manifested itself in three different forms:
Compositional – Environmentalists are from the middle and upper class.
Ideological – The reforms benefit the movement’s supporters but impose costs on nonparticipants.
Impact – The reforms have “regressive social impacts”. They disproportionately benefit environmentalists and harm underrepresented populations.
Supporters of economic growth have taken advantage of environmentalists’ neglect of minorities. They have convinced minority leaders looking to improve their communities that the economic benefits of industrial facility and the increase in the number of jobs are worth the health risks. In fact, both politicians and businesses have even threatened imminent job loss if communities do not accept hazardous industries and facilities. Although in many cases local residents do not actually receive these benefits, the argument is used to decrease resistance in the communities as well as avoid expenditures used to clean up pollutants and create safer workplace environments.
One of the prominent barriers to minority participation in environmental justice is the initial costs of trying to change the system and prevent companies from dumping their toxic waste and other pollutants in areas with high numbers of minorities living in them. There are massive legal fees involved in fighting for environmental justice and trying to shed environmental racism. For example, in the United Kingdom, there is a rule that the claimant may have to cover the fees of their opponents, which further exacerbates any cost issues, especially with lower income minority groups; also, the only way for environmental justice groups to hold companies accountable for their pollution and breaking any licensing issues over waste disposal would be to sue the government for not enforcing rules. This would lead to the forbidding legal fees that most could not afford. This can be seen by the fact that out of 210 judicial review cases between 2005 and 2009, 56% did not proceed due to costs.
Viewing their communities as disproportionately impacted by environmental degradation and disproportionately denied access to movements claiming to redress this, many organizations by and for racialized communities and low-wealth groups began to form in the 1970s and 80s to address environmental injustices. Their work has come to collectively form the backbone of the contemporary environmental justice movement, whose guiding principles were especially documented during the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in 1991. Participants in this Summit established 17 particular Principles of Environmental Justice.
Contributions of the Civil Rights Movement
During the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, activists participated in a social movement that created a unified atmosphere and advocated goals of social justice and equality. The community organization and the social values of the era have translated to the Environmental Justice movement.
Similar goals and tactics
The Environmental Justice movement and the Civil Rights Movement have many commonalities. At their core, the movements’ goals are the same: “social justice, equal protection, and an end to institutional discrimination.” By stressing the similarities of the two movements, it emphasizes that environmental equity is a right for all citizens. Because the two movements have parallel goals, it is useful to employ similar tactics that often emerge on the grassroots level. Common confrontational strategies include protests, neighborhood demonstrations, picketing, political pressure, and demonstration.
Existing organizations and leaders
Just as the civil rights movement of the 1960s began in the South, the fight for environmental equity has been largely based in the South, where environmental discrimination is most prominent. In these southern communities, black churches and other voluntary associations are used to organize resistance efforts, including research and demonstrations, such as the protest in Warren County, North Carolina. As a result of the existing community structure, many church leaders and civil rights activists, such as Reverend Benjamin Chavis Muhammad, have spearheaded the Environmental Justice movement.
The Bronx, in New York City, has become a recent example of Environmental Justice succeeding. Majora Carter spearheaded the South Bronx Greenway Project, bringing local economic development, local urban heat island mitigation, positive social influences, access to public open space, and aesthetically stimulating environments. The New York City Department of Design and Construction has recently recognized the value of the South Bronx Greenway design, and consequently utilized it as a widely distributed smart growth template. This venture is the ideal shovel-ready project with over $50 million in funding.
Several of the most successful Environmental Justice lawsuits are based on violations of civil rights laws. The first case to use civil rights as a means to legally challenge the siting of a waste facility was in 1979. With the legal representation of Linda McKeever Bullard, the wife of Robert D. Bullard, residents of Houston’s Northwood Manor opposed the decision of the city and Browning Ferris Industries to construct a solid waste facility near their mostly African-American neighborhood.
In 1979, Northeast Community Action Group, or NECAG, was formed by African American homeowners in a suburban, middle income neighborhood in order to keep a landfill out of their home town. This group was the first organization that found the connection between race and pollution. The group, alongside their attorney Linda McKeever Bullard started the lawsuit Bean v. Southwestern Waste Management, Inc., which was the first of its kind to challenge the sitting of a waste facility under civil rights law. The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which was used many times to defend minority rights during the 1960s, has also been used in numerous Environmental Justice cases.
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is often used in lawsuits that claim environmental inequality. The two most paramount sections in these cases are sections 601 and 602. Section 601 prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin by any government agency receiving federal assistance. To win an Environmental Justice case that claims an agency violated this statute, the plaintiff must prove the agency intended to discriminate. Section 602 requires agencies to create rules and regulations that uphold section 601; in Alexander v. Sandoval, the Supreme Court held that plaintiffs must also show intent to discriminate to successfully challenge the government under 602.
Contributions of the Reproductive Justice Movement
Many participants in the Reproductive Justice Movement see their struggle as linked with those for environmental justice, and vice versa. Loretta Ross describes the reproductive justice framework as addressing “the ability of any woman to determine her own reproductive destiny” and argues this is inextricably “linked directly to the conditions in her community – and these conditions are not just a matter of individual choice and access.” Such conditions include those central to environmental justice–including the siting of toxic contamination and pollution of food, air, and waterways. Mohawk midwife Katsi Cook helps illustrate one link between reproductive and environmental justice when she explains, “at the breasts of women flows the relationship of those generations both to society and to the natural world. In this way the earth is our mother, grandma says. In this way, we as women are the earth.” Cook founded the Mother’s Milk Project in the 1980s to address the toxic contamination of maternal bodies through exposure to fish and water contaminated by a General Motors Superfund site. In underscoring how contamination disproportionately impacted Akwesasne women and their children through gestation and breastfeeding, this Project brought to the fore one of the many intersections between reproductive and environmental justice.
Among the affected groups of Environmental Justice, those in high-poverty and racial minority groups have the most propensity to receive the harm of environmental injustice. Poor people account for more than 20% of the human health impacts from industrial toxic air releases, compared to 12.9% of the population nationwide. This does not account for the inequity found among individual minority groups. Some studies that test statistically for effects of race and ethnicity, while controlling for income and other factors, suggest racial gaps in exposure that persist across all bands of income.
African-Americans are affected by a variety of Environmental Justice issues. One notorious example is the “Cancer Alley” region of Louisiana. This 85-mile stretch of the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans is home to 125 companies that produce one quarter of the petrochemical products manufactured in the United States. The United States Commission on Civil Rights has concluded that the African-American community has been disproportionately affected by Cancer Alley as a result of Louisiana’s current state and local permit system for hazardous facilities, as well as their low socio-economic status and limited political influence. Another incidence of long-term environmental injustice occurred in the “West Grove” community of Miami, Florida. From 1925 to 1970, the predominately poor, African American residents of the “West Grove” endured the negative effects of exposure to carcinogenic emissions and toxic waste discharge from a large trash incinerator called Old Smokey. Despite official acknowledgement as a public nuisance, the incinerator project was expanded in 1961. It was not until the surrounding, predominantly white neighborhoods began to experience the negative impacts from Old Smokey that the legal battle began to close the incinerator.
Indigenous groups are often the victims of environmental injustices. Native Americans have suffered abuses related to uranium mining in the American West. Churchrock, New Mexico, in Navajo territory was home to the longest continuous uranium mining in any Navajo land. From 1954 until 1968, the tribe leased land to mining companies who did not obtain consent from Navajo families or report any consequences of their activities. Not only did the miners significantly deplete the limited water supply, but they also contaminated what was left of the Navajo water supply with uranium. Kerr-McGee and United Nuclear Corporation, the two largest mining companies, argued that the Federal Water Pollution Control Act did not apply to them, and maintained that Native American land is not subject to environmental protections. The courts did not force them to comply with US clean water regulations until 1980.
The most common example of environmental injustice among Latinos is the exposure to pesticides faced by farmworkers. After DDT and other chlorinated hydrocarbon pesticides were banned in the United States in 1972, farmers began using more acutely toxic organophosphate pesticides such as parathion. A large portion of farmworkers in the US are working as undocumented immigrants, and as a result of their political disadvantage, are not able to protest against regular exposure to pesticides or benefit from the protections of Federal laws. Exposure to chemical pesticides in the cotton industry also affects farmers in India and Uzbekistan. Banned throughout much of the rest of the world because of the potential threat to human health and the natural environment, Endosulfan is a highly toxic chemical, the safe use of which cannot be guaranteed in the many developing countries it is used in. Endosulfan, like DDT, is an organochlorine and persists in the environment long after it has killed the target pests, leaving a deadly legacy for people and wildlife.
Residents of cities along the US-Mexico border are also affected. Maquiladoras are assembly plants operated by American, Japanese, and other foreign countries, located along the US-Mexico border. The maquiladoras use cheap Mexican labor to assemble imported components and raw material, and then transport finished products back to the United States. Much of the waste ends up being illegally dumped in sewers, ditches, or in the desert. Along the Lower Rio Grande Valley, maquiladoras dump their toxic wastes into the river from which 95 percent of residents obtain their drinking water. In the border cities of Brownsville, Texas and Matamoros, Mexico, the rate of anencephaly (babies born without brains) is four times the national average.
States may also see placing toxic facilities near poor neighborhoods as preferential from a Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA) perspective. A CBA may favor placing a toxic facility near a city of 20,000 poor people than near a city of 5,000 wealthy people. Terry Bossert of Range Resources reportedly has said that it deliberately locates its operations in poor neighbourhoods instead of wealthy areas where residents have more money to challenge its practices. Northern California’s East Bay Refinery Corridor is an example of the disparities associated with race and income and proximity to toxic facilities.
It has been argued that environmental justice issues generally tend to affect women in communities more so than they affect men. This is due to the way that women typically interact more closely with their environments at home, such as through handling food preparation and childcare. Women also tend to be the leaders in environmental justice activist movements. Despite this, it tends not to be considered a mainstream feminist issue.
Fields and thematic areas
Among the main problems addressed by environmental justice are:
A “fairer justice”, which implies a better recognition of environmental rights and equity;
equitable and shared access to natural resources and sustainable development for ecological development, which means meeting the vital needs of human development both individually and socially;
the reduction of ecological inequalities, 25 which especially implies the development of ecological solidarity and solidarity in general, since social and ecological inequalities often combine their effects;
an equitable distribution of the payment of the ecological debt;
a better understood link between respect and even the restoration of the environment and socio-political, health, food (loss of autonomy) or socio-political impacts (for example, the numerous cases of land plundering, loss of sovereignty, exploitation or overexploitation of resources natural high value, little or no renewable);
the fight against the appropriation of natural resources by some to the detriment of others and biodiversity;
the fight against biopiracy (including the patenting of living organisms, genes and traditional knowledge).
This concept is still young and polysemic; the humanities and social sciences have shown that from 1990 to 2010, many actors claimed environmental justice, but “do not use the same words, or do not use the same meaning, and in general, refrain from defining them precisely.” This polysemy is explained in particular by the fact that cultural representations about nature are still very varied.
Likewise, “fair” environmental policies would imply «the identification and mapping of injustices, the articulation of the different scales and actors involved, and the definition of worrying spaces». To be operational, this form of justice must be based on a body of law still incomplete and be defined or redefined for each spatial and temporal scale (understanding that there are different injustices in territories whose environments differ). The notion of ecological inequality is understood differently according to the actors.
To be brought before a court or other administrative body, ecological or environmental damage generally must be characterized quite accurately, which sometimes becomes difficult when due to indirect or synergistic effects (which is the frequent case) or that may be hindered, for example, due to taxonomic impediments and the lack of human and financial resources dedicated to inventorying biodiversity, and the protection of species and habitats, especially in some countries poor or isolated areas.
Finally, given that future generations do not have direct representatives by definition, they are sometimes poorly defended from the damage they will have to endure due to the “unsustainable” human activities of yesterday or today. In the same way, the defenders of the environment have created a certain counterpower against those who tend to overexploit it, nature cannot defend itself, as men victims of injustice can do.
Another issue is access to environmental justice, that is, where and when it begins to be present in national laws. For example, indigenous, poor or isolated communities are often poorly represented in court or do not know their rights.
Interpretation and implementation of the results
Empirical evidence of environmental justice-relevant distribution and procedural deficiencies can – with appropriate political will – lead to consequences in environmental, economic, transport, construction policy, etc.
Environmental justice considerations often include the polluter pays principle. Who is responsible for an environmental damage, should carry its elimination and any additional costs incurred and not left to remedy the general public, so subject to environmental liability. An example of this principle is the European Union’s regulatory framework, which explicitly refers to it in Directive 2004/35 / EC.
From these points can be z. For example, say that low-income earners who live in poor homes are as vulnerable to environmental justice as people in developing countries who are particularly hard hit by global warming but have hardly helped.
In the sense of justice-theoretical reasoning, it can also be demanded that people or companies that benefit in a special way from natural resources should fully participate in this profit for the general public. The idea behind this is that the natural environment can not be considered a normal commodity and therefore can not belong to anyone as exclusive property. This component of environmental justice is reflected, for example, in the debate on biopiracy, where one issue is the granting of patents on individual genes.